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Population Growth, Atmospheric Change and Global Food Security

Ziska, L.H., Bunce, J.A., Shimono, H., Gealy, D.R., Baker, J.T., Newton, P.C.D., Reynolds, M.P., Jagadish, K.S.V., Zhu, C., Howden, M. and Wilson, L.T. 2012. Food security and climate change: on the potential to adapt global crop production by active selection to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide. Proceedings of the Royal society B 279: 4097-4105.
In introducing their important review paper on future food security, Ziska et al. (2012) write that "agricultural production is under increasing pressure by global anthropogenic changes, including rising population, diversion of cereals to biofuels, increased protein demands and climatic extremes," and they say that "because of the immediate and dynamic nature of these changes, adaptation measures are urgently needed to ensure both the stability and continued increase of the global food supply," the trouble being that we need "more cereals for biofuels, more grain for meat, and more food for the additional two billion people expected by 2050," and they indicate that "as these demands mount, available resources are becoming strained, with less arable land, less water for irrigation and less energy for fertilizer production." So what's the globe's all-time most ingenious species supposed to do about it?

In response to this question, the international team of eleven researchers - hailing from Australia, China, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines and the United States - goes on to show that "plant selection and/or breeding can exploit one of the most predictable anthropogenic changes: the global increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2)," adding that "adaptation to rising CO2 remains one of the simplest research strategies to ensure that global food security can be maintained in light of the anthropogenic stresses likely to be experienced for the remainder of the twenty-first century." And why is that? Because nearly all crop plants grow bigger and better - and produce greater yields - when exposed to higher-than-current atmospheric CO2 concentrations; and they use water more efficiently in doing so.

It's really a "no-brainer." As almost everyone is convinced that the atmosphere's CO2 content will continue to rise for some time to come, and as this phenomenon is accompanied by an increase in agricultural productivity and water use efficiency, why not screen the various lines or cultivars of Earth's current most highly-cultivated crops and select those that are most positively impacted by atmospheric CO2 enrichment for further breeding? ... for that is the way to develop crop lines that take maximum advantage of this aerial "blessing in disguise."

Archived 6 March 2013